The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
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Child-parent centers to expand
Chicago’s child-parent centers are slated to expand and gain additional resources with a $15 million Investing in Innovation grant won last year by the University of Minnesota.
The money will fund five new child-parent centers in Chicago, four in Evanston/Skokie District 65, and a total of 14 new locations in Normal School District 5, Milwaukee Public Schools, St. Paul (Minn.) Public Schools, and two other Minnesota districts.
The university has been tracking some of the centers’ graduates for more than 25 years through the Chicago Longitudinal Study, which has found that these students attained higher levels of education and earn more money than those who went to other early-childhood programs. They are also less likely to have criminal records or abuse drugs.
The special ingredient in child-parent centers is thought to be a combination of parent involvement, community and health care resources, small classes, and a curriculum that flows smoothly from preschool through 3rd grade.
Three decades after the study began, educators are increasingly focusing their attention on the importance of smooth transitions from preschool to the primary grades.
However, none of Chicago’s 10 Child-Parent Centers are currently implementing the whole “evidence-based” child-parent center model that has been studied, says researcher Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development.
“That doesn’t mean, of course, that they aren’t effective,” Reynolds says.
That model requires small classes (no larger than 17 students in preschool and 25 in K-3rd grade, even with assistants); a head teacher, who serves as the instructional leader for preschool and kindergarten; a parent resource teacher and parent room; a school-community liaison; health services on-site or provided through a community contractor; and “program facilitators,” who work with primary-grades teachers to improve instruction.
Currently, though, the only extra staff at the district’s child-parent centers are a head teacher, parent resource teacher, clerk, and teachers’ assistants, according to district spokeswoman Kathryn Hickey. She says that funding cuts have happened because of low enrollment in many of the programs.
In fall 2004, the district closed 8 of its then-23 child-parent centers for that same reason and over the years, it cut full-day programs from many of them.
A New America Foundation article details the centers’ struggles, noting that their decline coincided with the gentrification of the very inner-city neighborhoods they were designed to serve, increased Title I spending on literacy programs (which left less Title I money for the centers), the end of social promotion in CPS, and the rise of expensive, ineffective remediation programs.
Hickey says the new child-parent center sites have not been identified yet. “We are looking at former CPC sites with multiple classrooms… other program sites with multiple classrooms, and/or ‘center-like’ facilities,” she wrote in an email.